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Whistleblowers alleged to have raised school building concerns to Department of Education in 2012

The Joint Committee on Education heard claims that industry officials met with former Minister Ruairi Quinn over the issue.

Minister for Education Joe McHugh
Minister for Education Joe McHugh
Image: Oireachtas.ie

CONSTRUCTION INDUSTRY WHISTLEBLOWERS raised concerns about bogus contractors to the Department of Education up to five years ago, a Dáil committee has heard.

The Joint Committee on Education this evening heard claims that industry officials met with former Minister Ruairi Quinn and Department officials over the issue in 2012 or 2013.

The committee sat to discuss updates on the 42 schools built by Western Building Systems which have been examined for structural safety issues.

Two schools and a building at a third, all in Dublin, were closed last month after concerns were raised about their structural integrity.

Speaking at the committee, Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Ruth Coppinger alleged that a number of construction workers were “literally turfed out the door” when they raised concerns about school buildings a number of years ago.

“I can get the dates of those meetings, but are you aware of that? And can you look back in the diaries in Tullamore [where the Department's planning and building unit is based] to see if that’s the case?” she said.

Brick wall

Coppinger’s claims were echoed by her party colleague Richard Boyd-Barrett, who also alleged that a meeting between whistleblowers and Quinn took place in 2012 or 2013.

He said that building workers and construction officials met with Quinn in Tullamore and in Dublin at the time, when they said that the schools building programme was like “the Wild West”.

“But in all of these meetings they met a brick wall. The Department didn’t want to know … the Minister didn’t want to know. Now if that’s true, heads have to roll over that.”

Labour TD Joan Burton, a former Cabinet colleague of Quinn, refuted the claims, saying that the former Minister for Education had opened an investigation into practices on sites where new schools were built.

“A claim has been made against a former Minister which I know to be untrue and unreflective, because in fact there’s an official here from the Department who may have been there for some years,” she said.

Culpability

Responding to Burton, McHugh accepted that it was important that those who had claims made against them should be given a chance to defend themselves.

But he added that he would listen to any whistleblowers who may have evidence of meetings with Department officials if they were forthcoming.

Earlier, the Minister said he would strive to ensure that those responsible for the controversy were held accountable.

“What I’m determined to do is to get to the bottom of this and determined to find out who’s culpable, [and] where the responsibility lies,” McHugh said.

“There has to be culpability, and there has to be an effort made to ensure culpability and accountability is brought to bear.”

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced this afternoon that all 42 schools impacted by the scandal have now been structurally assessed.

He said that 19 schools have been cleared to reopen with no works needed, a further 19 have been allowed to open providing external works were done to them, while three were still unable to open but would be by the end of the week.

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